Hong Kong, who won the Asian qualifying tournament to book a date with Cook Islands in a two-match qualifying series, is ranked 22nd in the world. The Stan Wright-coached national side is placed on 55.
The visitors, who are expected to arrive into the country tomorrow, have been playing consistently, wrapping up the Asian qualifiers just over a fortnight ago.
The Cook Islands squad have been together for just over a week, undergoing some tough training sessions led by a star-studded coaching line-up including the likes of Wright, Andrew Walker, Kevin Iro and Andrew Iroa.
Up against the odds, national team manager Cam Kilgour hopes the players are able to turn the tide on their much-fancied opponent this weekend.
“They are the favourites, coming in ranked 22nd, and we are ranked 55th,” said Kilgour. “We are the underdogs in this match.”
“We need to put in a lot more effort and work – but we have a good coaching team and support from the likes of Andrew Walker, Kevin Iro and obviously Stan Wright. They have all been amazing.”
Former national skipper, George ‘the General’ George said the Cook Islands’ bid to qualify for its first-ever Rugby World Cup would not be an easy one.
“But it’s not impossible,” added George, one of our longest-serving national skippers.
“We can’t compare Hong Kong with Tahiti. Hong Kong is obviously a much better team and we have also gone up a notch when compared to the players we have got for this game to the ones who played against Tahiti.
“What we would like to see is the players stepping up and playing their best rugby that they have ever played and coming out of the field knowing that they have done their best.
“I guess the onus is also on the island to get behind the team. It’s a vital game and such support and boost is what the players need to do well.”
The second match of the series will be held in Hong Kong. The winner of this series will qualify for the repechage tournament which will determine the final team in the Rugby World Cup 2019 to be held in Japan.
Cook Islands squad: Props: AJ Campbell, James Pakoti, Tuakana Paitai, Alex Matapo; Hookers: Sam Anderson-Heather (Captain), Matthew Mullany; Locks/Flankers: James Kora, Shahn Eru, Tokerau Raru, Robert Heather, Te Eru Wano, Tyrone Viiga, Tai Marsters, Tamanui Nicholas; Halves: Othniel Joseph, Reece Joyce, Te Ara Henderson, Corry Tearoa, Walter Koteka; Centres/Outside Backs: Gene Te Amo, Jamian Iroa, Greg Mullany, Josh Tinomana, Brynn Uriarau, Marnus Hanley, Matamanea Matapakia, Oisin Clarken.